The ancient city of Dura Europos was established midway between Aleppo and Baghdad as an important site in that region, since its strategic location protected the Syro-Mesopotamian frontier along the Euphrates. The Macedonians founded the original town of Dura around 312 BCE in order to control commerce along the river. The goods traded during that time included: silk, jade, spices, ivory, ebony, and precious stones. They were transported from the east in caravans on the backs of camels on the way to the Mediterranean. The name Dura is of Semitic origin, and probably means “fortress”; the Seleucid kingdom likely retained the name due to its function. During that period, Dura Europos maintained the status of a polis, according to early literary sources, although its precise position remains to be unearthed. Deep ravines bind it on two sides, and the Euphrates on the other; the fourth faces west into the desert and was lined with stone walls and towers. Greeks, Persians, Christians, and Jews inhabited the city over the centuries.
The discoveries at Dura Europos are extraordinary, for in this remote locale were unearthed: 1) the earliest known Jewish synagogue, 2) the earliest dated Christian church, 3) sixteen temples dedicated to Greek, Roman, and Palmyrene deities, 4) monumental baths and amphitheater, 5) several important documents, and 6) the oldest fragment of the Diatessaron. The décor in the synagogue displays a landscape in the history of Jewish art with famous scenes from the scriptures. The style is Jewish-Hellenistic. The church, the earliest known, was converted at roughly the same period as the synagogue. It was remodeled from a private residence in 232-233. Two rooms were combined to form a single worship area; a platform was placed at one end. A small room in the northwestern corner, the only one decorated, became the baptistery. One of the most important discoveries at Dura Europos is a third-century fragment of the Diatessaron. This vellum text is in Greek, which for most scholars ended a long-running debate over the original language of Tatian’s famous work.
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